Top 10 Scenic Drives in Arizona

Taking the scenic route is the best way to really see what a region has to offer. All too often, travelers get caught up in things like making good time or adhering to a schedule when all that does is hurry them past amazing spots to see and unique activities. For those who want to truly savor the diverse landscape of Arizona, which is far from just boring, hot desert, try one of these scenic drives. Along the way, don’t hesitate to pull over for further investigation when once-in-a-lifetime opportunities arise, such as standing where John Wayne once tipped his hat or watching the sun set on one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.

No. 10 – Route 66

Route 66 Arizona
Flickr user: Vicente Villamón

Starting Location: Topock, AZ
Ending Location: Holbrook, AZ
Length: 304 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Arizona is home to the most unadulterated miles of historic Route 66, although much of it still coincides with I-40. For patient travelers more concerned with the journey than the destination, however, this iconic route provides plenty to see from the stunning Black Mountains to kitschy businesses full of Old West charm. Notable stops along the way include the Grand Canyon Caverns, Meteor Crater, and a concrete teepee at the end of the trip.

No. 9 – Kaibab Plateau

Kaibab Plateau Arizona
Flickr user: Al_HikesAZ

Starting Location: Jacob Lake, AZ
Ending Location: Cape Royal, AZ
Length: 60 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Despite how this drive is known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon,” it doesn’t get a lot of attention from tourists simply because the roads provide a longer and more winding route. Stop at the Grand Canyon Lodge along the way to snap pictures from the North Rim or take one of the hiking trails that vary from easy to advanced. After that, Point Imperial offers views from the region’s highest elevation, where not only the Grand Canyon’s wonders are visible but also the Navajo Nation Reservation and the Colorado River.

No. 8 – Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon Arizona
Flickr user: Noel Reynolds

Starting Location: Flagstaff, AZ
Ending Location: Sedona, AZ
Length: 29 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Much of this winding route follows the fault line of the 2000-foot deep Oak Creek Canyon before descending into a virtual grove of desert rock formations. Travelers planning to stop along the way for a picnic or hike are required to have a Red Rock Pass or an America the Beautiful Pass to be able to park. In fact, stopping to explore is highly recommended with wonders ranging from the Pumphouse Wash Bridge to Slide Rock State Park.

No. 7 – Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park

Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park Arizona
Flickr user: Jason Corneveaux

Starting Location: South Tucson, AZ
Ending Location: Saguaro National Park, AZ
Length: 26 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

For those living in or visiting Tuscon, this less-than-an-hour drive is a beautiful way to pass part of an afternoon. The route passes right through a forest of Saguaro cacti, which can grow as tall as 60 feet and live about 150 years. There are also plenty of scenic views of the Tuscon Mountains, and film buffs should consider a stop at Old Tucson Studios, where John Wayne and Clint Eastwood filmed numerous movies.

No. 6 – Apache Trail

Apache Trail Arizona new
Flickr user: Michael Foley

Starting Location: Apache Junction, AZ
Ending Location: Globe, AZ
Length: 77 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Former President Theodore Roosevelt once boasted that the Apache Trail was “one of the most spectacular, best-worth-seeing sights in the world,” and it is certainly a jaunt full of both natural and man-made wonders to view. From the historic gold mine in Goldfield Ghost Town to the Majestic Superstition Mountains, there’s no shortage of things to delight travelers. Be warned, however, that the first leg of the Apache Trail is paved while the second leg is not.

No. 5 – Coronado Trail Scenic Byway

Coronado Trail Scenic Byway Arizona
Flickr user: Patrick Alexander

Starting Location: Clifton, AZ
Ending Location: Springerville, AZ
Length: 144 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

This byway may not get a lot of traffic, but it has plenty of breathtaking vistas to make it worth the trip. From the Morenci Copper Mine Overlook, which affords a peek at the largest copper mine in the United States, to the Chase Canyon with its hairpin turns, there’s always something to keep travelers on their toes. The drive’s shining attraction, however, is the volcanic Escudilla Mountain, which is Arizona’s third highest peak at 10,912 feet.

No. 4 – Monument Valley

Monument Valley Arizona
Flickr user: Natalie Downe

Starting Location: Kayenta, AZ
Ending Location: Mexican Hat, UT
Length: 42 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

Monument Valley may be a geologist’s dream, but anyone can appreciate the splendor of the various rock formations seen along this route. Many of the formations, such as Elephant Feet and Chaistla Butte, will seem familiar from the silver screen, but there are countless other craggy shapes to amuse travelers. There are also opportunities to lengthen the trip with detours to visit the Navajo National Monument, Gooseneck State Park, and the Valley of the Gods.

No. 3 – Red Rock Scenic Byway

Red Rock Scenic Byway Arizona
Flickr user: Michael Wilson

Starting Location: Sedona, AZ
Ending Location: Oak Creek, AZ
Length: 15 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

At just 15 miles long, it may not sound like the Red Rock Scenic Byway could have much to offer, but this short drive passes through a diverse array of desert flora and fauna. These displays are complemented by a backdrop full of majestic formations, including the route’s namesake of Red Rock. With the Red Rock pass, travelers can park and get up-close-and-personal looks at such marvels as the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is built right into the red rock mesas, and Cathedral Rock, which is a popular hiking destination.

No. 2 – Sky Island Scenic Byway

Sky Island Scenic Byway Arizona
Flickr user: Ade Russell

Starting Location: Tuscon, AZ
Ending Location: Mount Lemmon, AZ
Length: 38 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This route takes explorers through a 6,000-foot ascent that mimics experiencing all four seasons in a single trip, but the views at the top make the change of temperature and ear-popping altitude worth it. There are no gas stations along the way, so travelers should be prepared with a full tank, plenty of water, and even a jacket on hand. Windy Point and Geology Vista are favorites for photographers, but there are countless other opportunities to hone camera skills, such as on the Butterfly Trail or at the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center.

No. 1 – Grand Canyon Loop

Grand Canyon Loop Arizona
Flickr user: Howard Ignatius

Starting Location: Flagstaff, AZ
Ending Location: Flagstaff, AZ
Length: 205 miles
Best Season to Drive: All
See this drive on Google Maps

For travelers with an entire day or weekend free to explore the region, the Grand Canyon Loop is a must for the to-do list. The drive goes by some of the most spectacular vistas to appreciate this Natural Wonder of the World, and, with an America the Beautiful pass, visitors can stop and forge a more intimate connection with the land with a hike or trail ride. There are also ample opportunities to watch the local wildlife, such as coyotes and red-tail hawks, but visitors should keep their eyes peeled for less friendly natives like rattlesnakes and scorpions.

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